Tracey Rothenberger on His Move from CIO to COO

Tracey Rothenberger, CIO of Ricoh Americas Corporation, part of the $20 billion global technology company headquartered in Tokyo, was promoted to COO.  Since this is a path that many CIOs are interested in pursuing, asked Rothenberger to talk about how he made the move.

How did you move from CIO to COO?

The move was a series of events that occurred over time. I joined the company in 1999 and became CIO in 2006.  After doing that role for four years, I was asked to take on the process improvement function for the entire company.   As CIO and Chief Process Officer, I looked at all areas of the business to help us manage through some of the big, complex changes we were undergoing.

At that time, we were shifting from selling hardware to providing services.  How do you set prices in the new model?  How do you go to market? How do you set your billing systems?  Our business model shift required major change right down to our invoices.   My job was to lead the team that worked across all functional departments to drive this change; we became the glue that made the change actually executable.   There a lot of people who have great concepts, but unless you get harmony in how to execute those concepts, you will not be successful.

Why was the Chief Process Officer an important stepping stone to the COO role?

As head of process improvement, I gained a broader perspective into the day to day business functions that I had not been as involved with in my CIO role.  I got to close to our sales groups, our supply chain team, and our customer administration teams.  The role gave me visibility into ways that we could improve our business. So, when Ricoh’s new CEO wanted a new COO, he saw that I had a broad understanding of the business, and he asked me to step in to the position.

What has your learning curve been as COO?

As COO, I have to get even deeper into areas that I’ve touched in the past but have not been intimate with.  Supply chain, for example, is a very complex business function, especially for a company of our size.  I spend a lot of time trying to understand how I can bring more value to teams that are highly specialized and have unique skills.  How can I provide connection points between these teams? How can I help them improve and get to the next level?

Are there any skills or perspectives that you gained as CIO that you have to “unlearn” in your new job?

When I was CIO, I was much more hands on than I am now.  Now, I have to step away from certain details, and that still feels a little unnatural to me.  In order to do step away, I need to make sure that I’m giving the person I’m mentoring into the CIO role the right level of control and authority to change decisions I’ve made when I was in position.  I need to break emotional ties to my past role as CIO. That is something I have to fight against constantly.

For example, I started my career on the infrastructure side, and I loved crisis management .  If we had a major infrastructure issue, and we were in a bad state, and it was all hands on deck, and we were collaborating and thinking real time about the issue, I was in my comfort zone.  As I’ve moved up to the CIO role, I’ve been able to do less of that, and now as COO, even less.  I just have to let that go.

What advice would you offer CIOs who would like to follow a similar career trajectory?

The first is that you cannot really care about boundaries.  Rather than stay focused only on IT, you need to insert yourself where you believe there is value to the company, and then get in and lend a hand.  The second is that you need a clear voice.  You need to find your voice and clearly articulate why something needs to change and why you believe it needs to change.  Any CIO who wants to be a COO, has to get comfortable finding that voice in an area where today, they aren’t perceived as a subject matter expert.  That is a skill I have worked hard to develop over time.


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